Today I’m taking a few minutes to reflect on aspects of my life that I’m thankful for.
I’ve spent most of my life thinking the opposite way. No matter how many parts of my life were good I was always stuck in thinking about what I didn’t have and what could be better. It seemed to me that almost everyone else had more money, happier family, better athletic skills and the list was endless. In retrospect, it’s interesting that I was so focused on everyone else, that I’m not sure I even saw me. As someone had something better than I did in essentially every category, there was essentially nothing about me that I could appreciate.
So I was driven beyond words to “prove myself” and worked extremely hard to become accomplished to fill this gap. I became “successful”. But the adrenaline drive that took my up the hill took me right back down the other side, ending up with a shattered life and a suicidal depression. No one on the outside could even sense the depth of the drive or the intense angst that propelled it. So how do define “success”. With physician burnout approaching 60% across the board, this is becoming even a bigger question.
Amongst teens, this is also a significant problem in that social media makes it seem even more that everyone has a dream life; except that there is a huge increase in adolescent chronic pain, heroin use, suicide, and generalized unrest. They have a word, “FOMO” (fear of missing out) that encapsulate the situation.
My first clue that this perspective was a problem was when I read a book, The Art of Happiness based on the teachings of the Dali Lama. He pointed out how much more productive it was to compare yourself and your circumstances to those who were less fortunate than it was to think about what you didn’t have.
“Anxiety with Success”
I became aware of another pattern of thinking in midst of my eight-day Hoffman process. It was the “anxiety with success.” The Hoffman process taught me a focused and organized format that allowed me to become aware of my embedded reactive behavioral patterns, engaged me in an intense separation program, and taught me a brilliant re-programming tools. The awareness step was critical, as I did not realize how much of my life I took for granted. It turns out that the success that I was working at so diligently, was actually creating intense anxiety. Talk about driving down the freeway of life the wrong direction.
I’ve had a lot of successes and also many failures. One pattern of behavior I hadn’t seen was that I’d have some success and then somehow I rarely followed through. Or I would get into a reactive mode and just walk away from a potentially major success. I then spent a lot of time wondering what happened and then beating myself up. All of this was not only a waste of time but consumed a lot of emotional energy.
When the behavioral pattern that emerged was that I had extreme “anxiety with success”, I was shocked. I had spent the major part of my waking hours trying to be successful in whatever I attempted yet I was creating a situation that caused intense anxiety. How could this be? I’ve since learned that this is a fairly common problem.
I was the oldest of four children in a household with a difficult mother who suffered from chronic pain. I was the problem-solver in the family since I was about seven years-old. The baseline state of our family was chaos. The Hoffman process taught me to diagram what they term is a vicious cycle. Here is the sequence:
- Chaos (severe and my baseline state)
- Problem-solving/conflict resolution mode (powerful role especially for a child)
- Problem solved (I felt like a hero)
- Period of calm (anxiety ensued in that we did not know how long it would last)
- Need for chaos (if it doesn’t occur I will create it)
- Chaos (comfort zone)
Becoming aware of this sequence allowed me to use tools to process each step of this cycle. However I was not as effective at dealing with the “anxiety of success” as I was with other patterns. As I continued to work with my teacher, Kani Comstock, she pointed out something that allowed me to finally enjoy my successes. It was gratitude.
I have endured a lot and so have most of you. Chronic pain with all of its many layers is not a small problem. I first have a deep sense of gratitude that I am personally no longer experiencing chronic pain. Additionally I have been able to figure out what factors contributed what I feel is almost a miracle and that I’m able to share them with you.
It Has Been Worth It
Although I have seen hundreds of patients become pain free, this is not a numbers game with me. Even if my life experience allowed just one of my patients to achieve a pain free state, it has all been worthwhile. Every time a patient comes in excited about their relief of pain I am still fascinated and somewhat in a state of disbelief. At my core, I’m a surgeon and I don’t understand all of the variables that cause this to happen. Not only do they become pain free, but also they rapidly begin to recreate the life that they had lost and go well beyond what they ever had. This last year I have seen two patients have their spouses come back to them and create a thriving relationship.
That I have been able to contribute to any part of their healing is a gift to me that I never would have imagined possible.